Friday 19 April


School sanitation plans a step in the right direction, SECTION27 monitoring implementation

5 July 2022 – Following SECTION27’s return to court to fight for the eradication of pit toilets from schools in Limpopo in September 2021, the Limpopo Department of Education (LDOE) has developed new plans for sanitation infrastructure delivery at schools in the province. While these plans are an improvement on the LDOE to eradicate pit toilets, more work needs to be done to prevent deaths or injuries of learners while at school due to unsafe school sanitation infrastructure.

In a decisive judgment, Judge Muller from the High Court of South Africa (Polokwane Division) described the persistence of pit toilets at schools as a “national emergency”. On 17 December 2021, the LDOE filed updated plans to address this emergency. SECTION27 has since analysed the plans and found that while this report is far more comprehensive and detailed than previous plans, it has some serious inconsistencies, which may jeopardise whether the government can actually implement this plan. The problems with the plans may delay the realisation of learners’ rights to basic education, equality, dignity, safety and security and an environment that is not harmful to their health or wellbeing, among other rights. We have written to the education authorities highlighting these concerns and hopeful that these problems will be addressed in its next report, which is expected soon.

We returned to court last year because the LDOE’s plans to eradicate pit toilets from schools in the province only anticipated removing unsafe sanitation infrastructure as late as 2030 amongst several other concerns. Demanding that the court declare the LDOE’s initial plans as unconstitutional and unreasonable, SECTION27 represented the Komape family in yet another High Court case in 2021 to get the LDOE to uphold its constitutional obligations to provide safe sanitation at all schools in the province.

The court found in our favour, declaring that the LDOE should take ‘urgent and effective steps’ to address the persistence of pit toilets and unsafe sanitation infrastructure at schools in the province. Judge Muller ordered education authorities to provide a new plan, including an accurate list of schools and their sanitation infrastructure status and needs, the budget for the delivery of infrastructure at these schools, revised timelines for implementation and suitable interim solutions, among other requirements.

We welcome the improved detail provided by the LDOE in this plan, as well as its commitment to provide interim mobile toilets to all schools solely reliant on pit toilets while permanent infrastructure solutions are arranged. Officials within the LDOE and Department of Basic Education have been identified to lead on different parts of the plan. The LDOE said that they contracted a team of field assessors to verify the status of sanitation infrastructure at 2,467 schools around the province, making the data in this plan more credible than previous plans based on outdated data. Schools with pit toilets only are prioritised, with the provision of desludging, demolition of unsafe structures, and the delivery of sufficient numbers of safe toilets per the Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, following in priority. The deadline for the eradicating sanitation infrastructure backlogs has been shortened, with all schools expected to have adequate safe school sanitation infrastructure by the 2028/2029 financial year.  

While efforts to expedite the delivery of safe sanitation infrastructure are welcome, SECTION27 notes that according to the Relating to Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, all schools were supposed to have been provided with safe sanitation in 2016. Recently the Department of Basic Education has proposed amendments to the Norms and Standards, which involve the scrapping of deadlines for infrastructure delivery. SECTION27 is making submissions on these amendments, and believes that the deadlines for infrastructure delivery are crucial accountability measures that school communities and civil society can use to hold education authorities accountable to their promises with respect to safe school infrastructure.

While the first set of plans offers more information than previous plans, it still needs serious work:

  • Our analysis indicates potential inaccuracies with the plan, with some 78 schools relying solely on pit toilets not listed in plans for schools with only pit toilets. The data about the numbers of schools with pit toilets in use alongside other forms of sanitation also appears to be inaccurate.
  • Some schools do not appear in cost breakdowns, implying that provision of safe infrastructure has not been properly budgeted for; budget calculations in the plan, furthermore, do not seem to reconcile with funding from the LDOE’s 2022 budget. Our calculations indicate that the LDOE is short of at least R3.1billion to implement this plan, seriously jeopardising its realisation.
  • The LDOE has revised its deadlines for the complete eradication of sanitation backlogs to take place between 2022/23 and 2028/29 but the reasons for these time frames are  unclear.
  • Some schools seem to be missing from priority lists, and in many cases, insufficient information is provided for each school.
  • We hope to see evidence that mobile toilets have been provided as interim measures while permanent sanitation solutions are delivered, as we are concerned that renting mobile toilets has not been adequately budgeted for.

We have requested that education authorities respond to our queries in their next report, which we expect to receive soon. Addressing unsafe sanitation infrastructure backlogs is a task that requires political will, coordination, careful planning as well as dedication to putting the rights of learners first. SECTION27 remains committed to monitoring the rollout of safe sanitation infrastructure, and working with education authorities to ensure implementation of infrastructure delivery to all schools in Limpopo.

The LDOE’s first set of court-ordered plans are available on our website here:

Our full analysis of these plans is available here:

European Union funding supports SECTION27’s work on education rights issues.


For media queries, contact Julia Chaskalson: / 083 440 2674


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